Sunday, November 2, 2008

Political Irrationality: Stealing Political Signs

As I discussed in this post, Caplan has written many interesting economic pieces on the phenomenon of political irrationality. Here is an interesting example of irrational political behavior, reported by the Duluth News Tribune (gated): a college professor stealing political signs. See a reproduction of the article down in the post (picture HT thinktrain).

The economic question here is: why would anyone engage into an ineffective form of political manifestation that, besides representing an immoral aggression against other people's freedoms, has a high probability of leading to all kinds of troubles? Cost-benefit analysis tells us that this kind of behavior is irrational. The answer is found in Caplan's main thesis: while markets promote rational decisions, politics promotes irrational decisions.

Here is the article, and I'll stress the statements that are particularly relevant to the discussion:

NORTHFIELD, Minn. — A professor has confessed on a national blog to stealing Republican presidential campaign signs in southern Minnesota.

Philip Busse wrote about the thefts on Huffington Post, a liberal news Web site and blog in a post dated Thursday. He is a visiting professor in the theater department at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

In the article titled “Confessions of a Lawn Sign Stealer,” Busse admits to stealing seven McCain/Palin lawn signs along Hwy. 19 near St. Olaf.

In an e-mail to the Northfield News, Busse expressed remorse, saying it was “immature and impetuous.”

But he said he’s surprised at the reactions he’s received for the act instead of his article on the Web site.

“Writing the essay was an opportunity to explore and talk about political speech and the desire that most of us have to express our politics — both in mature and immature ways, and sometimes a mix of the two,” Busse said in the e-mail. “I’m disappointed that most readers seem to have focused on the thefts, and not on the larger thoughts.”

In the article, Busse likened his thefts to an act of civil disobedience and said that stealing the signs was “one of the single most exhilarating and empowering political acts that I have ever done.” The Northfield Police Department says stealing political yard signs is treated as a misdemeanor, but complainants rarely decide to pursue charges.

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